16 of My Favorite Reads from 2018

It was a great reading year for me. The vast majority of the 63 books I read in 2018 were excellent, beautifully written, and/or just plain fun — and this could potentially be a much longer list, if I were to include every book that I enjoyed reading last year.

Fiction

freshwater by akwaeke emezi

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emzi

Connected to gods and spirit, Ada navigates her life with a sense of fractured self. Emzi’s debut novel is stunning from top to bottom. Ada’s story is heart wrenching. The writing is lush, vivid, and lyrical. It’s the kind of writing to sink into and get lost in. This book haunts me in the best of ways. (Full review.)

All Systems Red - Martha Wells

The Murderbot Series by Martha Wells

Technically, this is a cheat, since this series constitutes four books — All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy — but I’m counting them as one, since they are all just too good. All Murderbot (as it has dubbed itself) wants is to be left alone and watch hours of vids in peace. But as a security robot assigned to protect a team of scientists surveying a new planet, it has to spend a significant amount of its time preventing humans from doing stupid things that could get them killed and then saving those humans when they do those stupid things anyway. This becomes even more difficult when it becomes clear his clients are under threat of being murdered by outside sources. I loved Murderbot and all its depressed sass from page one, and each of the novellas in which it appears is full of thrilling action and humor.

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Driven by the need to impress her politically motivated mother, Ingray embarked on a dangerous and desperate scheme with unexpected consequences. Leckie is a master of world building, and the planet Hwe on which Ingray resides is a fascinating world of political intrigue. The intercultural confusion that occurs when alien ambassadors and rogue ship captains get mixed up in her scheming makes for an entertaining twists and turns and Ingray stumbles through dramatic conflicts she accidentally sets in motion. Another great book from one of my favorite authors. (Full review.)

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

In order to escape her past, Rosemary joins up with a motley crew of space farers who are tasked with opening the wormholes that enable long distance space travel. The relationships between these lovable goofballs (comprised of a mix of backgrounds and species) is at the center of this novel. Presented in episodic chapters, the novel feels a bit more like a sitcom than an epic space opera — and if you like humor, found families, and stories about compassion, then that’s totally in its favor. (Full review.)

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Believing it can bring her a balm to her trauma and anger from the violence she witnessed on her way to Oomza University, Binti has returned home only to unveil strange new family secrets. While deep in the desert contemplating this new knowledge, she learns that the presence of her friend Okwu (the first of the Meduse species to journey to Earth in peace) has stirred up violent repercussions from the Khoush, putting her family in danger. Can she rush home in time to protect them? The Binti Trilogy is an imaginative and thrilling space opera, with beautiful layers of culture and character woven throughout. The Night Masquerade makes for a wonderful and satisfying conclusion that left me in tears.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

The island of Sawkill Rock is a idyllic place, where the the ocean crashes against rocky shores, prize horses graze in green pastures, and where the people are lithe and prosperous and unconcerned. Yet the Rock carries a dark secret — girls have been disappearing there for decades and urban legends abound about a monster in the woods. No on has braved out the truth about the missing girls, not until three girls come together to peer into the secrets hidden on the island. I love the way this book puts female relationships at its center, providing the power to root out evil only when three girls come together to fight it. (Full review.)

the changeling by victor lavalle

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Apollo Kagwa is a book man, tracking down rare first editions to make his living. When he falls in love with Emma and they have a son together, he is determined to be a better father than the man who abandoned him when he was young. But Emma begins acting in strange and unsettling ways, building to a terrible act before vanishing — sending Apollo’s world spinning out of control. The Changeling by Victor LaValle is a powerful novel, presenting a variety of horror, both mundane and supernatural, a mix of folklore and familial love and violence.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

Looking for answers following her friend’s death,Danielle Cain (a “queer punk rock traveller”) finds herself in Freedom, Iowa — a squatter town professing to be a utopia. However, something’s wrong about the place, and it’s not just the heartless animal life wandering around as though they aren’t really dead. I freaking love The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion — which I grabbed off the shelf because of its amazing title and strange eerie cover. The story is beautiful, unsettling and surprising with a multitude of interesting, believable characters. When I finished reading, I just sort of clutched it to my chest, wanting so much more of these people and this world.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Aster is an adept healer living in the slums of the generation starship, HSS Matilda. The class inequalities between the upper and lower classes are dramatic, with those in the lower decks struggling to survive under the dominance of the police force. Aster is a fascinating character — brilliant, obsessive, curious, and solitary — who pushes back against the strict oppression in what small ways she can, uncovering truths about her mother and the ship in the process. (Full review.)

Stories of Your Life and Other by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others presents a collection of short stories with characters who are driven by the pursuit of knowledge. The science at the core of these tales is not the flash bang of laser guns or space ships or explosions, but in the contemplation and study of our world through linguistics, mathematics, architecture, and beauty. As I read Chiang’s stories, I was continually impressed by his skill as a writer. (Full review.)

Poetry

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar 

If They Come for Us is a stunning collection of poetry that ” captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America by braiding together personal and marginalized people’s histories.” These poems are lyrical and powerful and moving. I love the creativity offered, from the way Asghar addresses the political through the personal to the ways she plays with language and uses humor to emphasize the messages within many of these pieces. (Full review.)

R E D by Chase Berggrun

R E D by Chase Berggrun

In R E D, Berggrun presents a series of erasures of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The poems transform the text from a storyline in which women have little to no agency to a stunning exploration of abuse, violence, power dynamics, and femininity.

I am not your final girl by clair c holland

I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland

I Am Not Your Final Girl is a collection of horror-themed poetry draws on the female characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent. (Full review.)

Bonus: A couple of amazing chapbooks I read this year include Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar (interview) and No God In This Room by Athena Dixon (interview) — both of which I highly recommend.

Comics & Graphic Novels

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris

Set in 1960s Chicago, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is told by Karen Reyes a young girl with a passion for pulp horror stories. In her spiral bound journals, she draws out her life in a mix of sketches, journal entries, and comic panels — presenting the interconnected stories of her mother, brother, and the people who live in her community. The use of color and crosshatching makes for some of the most beautiful artwork I’ve seen in any graphic novel, and the story itself is wonderfully complex and layered. (Full review.)

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror, written and illustrated by Junji Ito

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror, written and illustrated by Junji Ito

I’ve read a multitude of works by Ito in the past year, going into my own spiral of exploring his graphic works of horror. If I had to choose just one of this books to recommend, however, I’ll go with the classic Uzumaki, in which a town is threatened by the looming presence of a simple geometric shape. The image of a spiral fills the town, infusing and consuming the people. The black and white artwork manages to be both beautiful and horrifying at the same time.

Nonfiction

Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer 

Aimed at writers of speculative fiction (but valuable just about any writer), Wonderbook covers the full range of the writing process, from structural story elements to world building to revision, providing a theory and practice of writing. What sets this above the average writing advice book is the multitude of prompts, writing exercises, and essays from a variety of authors. (Full review.)

What were some of your favorite reads from 2018?


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Top Reads of 2016

I read a total of 57 books in 2016, far lower than usual, but it was a particularly busy year for me in regards to writing and other projects. Nevertheless, there were many great reads this year, so many that I would not be able to narrow them all down to just a few. So, here are my favorite reads, all categorized, because that’s how I roll.

Best Science Fiction Novel

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. The more I read Connie Willis’ work, the more I admire her as an author. Doomsday Book was no exception. Set in Oxford—at a university in which historians are able to actually travel back in time to witness and experience the past eras they research—the story is split between Kivrin, who travels to the Middle Ages (one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history), and Dunworthy, her mentor who is terrified to see her go and is left to face his own crisis in the present day as a sudden influenza outbreak flares up, forcing Oxford to go into quarantine. Dealing with disease as it does, it’s a dark story, although it is laced with Willis’ wit and humor. I especially loved Kivrin’s journey to the Middle Ages and fell in love (as Kivrin does) with the family that takes her in. A fantastic book, one that had me itching to read more in Willis’ time travel series.

Honorable Mention: Ancillary Mercy, by Anne Leckie, which was the conclusion to the Imperial Radch trilogy (the first book was featured on my list from last year).

Continue reading “Top Reads of 2016”

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom is a fitting tribute to H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a novella that draws up the doom-ridden horror of the elder gods, while also addressing the unsettling prejudice of Lovecraft’s writing. “I grew up worshipping the guy so this issue felt quite personal to me,” explained Victor LaValle. “I wanted to write a story set in the Lovecraftian universe that didn’t gloss over the uglier implications of his worldview.”

The story centers around Tommy Tester, a young black man in 1920s Harlem. In order to avoid the hard life his father led as a laborer, Tommy turns to hustling in order to make his living. He has learned to disguise himself, donning a suit, a guitar case, and a shuffling step to mask himself against the watchful eyes white folks and the cops, who might see him as threatening otherwise. He knows how to put on a bit of theater and draw in a certain subset of clientele. But after he delivers an occult tome (with a page conveniently missing) to a reclusive sorceress in Queens, he earns her wrath, which brings destruction down on him and leads him into awakening powers best left sleeping.

Racism serves as an ever present backdrop, a constant shadow laid across the vivid descriptions of Harlem and other regions of New York that make their appearance. This racism takes several forms, both subtle and overt, from the cops who hassle him and steal his money to the patronizing rich white man who promises “salvation” for the downtrodden. Some of these moments are eerily familiar to current events. This is an intricate part of what makes this story so horrifying. If the world is so hateful, then how can ancient, powerful, and indifferent beings be any worse? Thus, Tom’s descent into darkness is frightening, blood soaked, and to a certain extent understandable.

The Ballad of Black Tom is fast read and a brilliant horror story.